Medical honor society organizes first ever idea exchange with biomedical researchers

Matthew Yanoff

Matthew Yanoff, Class of 2017 and vice president of Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, organized the idea-sharing event that brought together students, biomedical researchers, and Carilion Clinic physicians. Yanoff also was awarded two Letters of Distinction for his research with Steven Poelzing, associate professor in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Two members of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society recently organized an event that brought clinicians and biomedical researchers together to learn from each other and formulate ideas for future collaborations.

The evening included a reception and presentations by three researchers from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute: Associate Professor Steve Poelzing, who also co-directs the Virginia Tech Translational Biology, Medicine and Health (TBMH) doctoral program, Assistant Professor Sarah Parker, and Assistant Professor John Chappell.

“Last year I challenged our school’s two junior members of Alpha Omega Alpha, Nathan Johnson and Matt Yanoff, to increase the breadth and depth of the group’s activities,” said Dean Cynda Johnson. “To my delight, they rose to the challenge this year. We hope the event will inspire more grass roots efforts like it in the future.”

The researchers talked about some of their current projects and the importance of having medical students involved.

“The benefit of a partnership between VTCRI researchers and medical students is a greater awareness of how basic science and clinical practice mutually inform and guide each other,” Poelzing said. “When we remain surrounded by colleagues that think like us, we often make erroneous assumptions about the other group’s work.”

Poelzing, whose lab focuses on the number one cause of death in the United States — heart disease and particularly sudden cardiac death resulting from a variety of causes — said partnerships at the time of medical and graduate school training provides a network for engaging in future scientific studies.

In fact, medical students and graduate students in TBMH program study research papers of visiting speakers together, working in teams to lay the foundations for future collegial interactions between those groups.

“This program represents a return to a past successful model in academic medical centers that has virtually disappeared from the academic medicine landscape, due to curriculum and budgetary constraints,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. “We are at the forefront of this revolution to bring science and medicine back together at the earliest stages of training.”

Chappell, who currently has six medical students in his lab, which focuses on how blood vessels form in normal development and disease, said, “The students come in and think differently. They see things from the clinical perspective. That’s where some of the best ideas come from. They keep us grounded in clinical questions.”

He added, “The level of productivity that they are capable of in the short amount of time they spend in the lab is tremendous.”

Parker’s research, meanwhile, is grounded in the clinical care and focuses on the performance of teams in intensive care units, operating rooms, and outpatient clinics, crossing medical, surgical, and nursing disciplines.

“Medical students bring a unique perspective to our research team,” she said. “The partnership of graduate research student and medical student helps to bridge the translational gap that can occur in many biomedical institutions."

All of the researchers were enthusiastic about where the event and others like it could lead.

“There are lots of different opportunities to start working together…clinicians with researchers, researchers with clinicians,” Chappell said. “I think it’s really exciting. We need each other.” Founded in 1902, Alpha Omega Alpha is the national medical honor society. This prestigious group recognizes excellence in scholarship and the highest ideals and professionalism in the medical profession. Up to 16 percent of a medical school’s class may be elected to the society.

For the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, this means six students may be members each year – two from the third-years and four from the fourth-year students.

At its annual dinner recently, the group inducted six new members. Junior members inducted were: Caroline Reist and Scott Fligor. Senior members are Michael Gallagher, Hillary McClintic, Christopher McLaughlin, and Francis Bustos.

Two faculty members and two residents were also inducted this year. The newly inducted faculty members were Damon Kuehl and Jonathan Carmouche. The two residents were Edward Orshansky and Harry Lee Warren.

Written by Catherine Doss